The female athlete triad is a serious concern for active women and girls who are driven to excel in sports. It involves three distinct, but interrelated conditions. They are disordered eating, amenorrhea and osteoporosis.
One of the main causes of the Triad is an energy deficit, you have a situation where an individual isn’t consuming enough calories to support the amount of training or exercise that they are doing. This type of activity could lead to disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction and low bone mass formation. Anyone can be affected by this, but it’s most commonly seen in girls and women who participate in sports or other activities that require leanness or a low body weight. Under pressure to lose weight some individuals may resort to unhealthy weight control methods to help them achieve a certain body weight or look. Some of the unhealthy weight control methods that may be used are as follows: restricted food intake, self- induced vomiting, consumption of appetite suppressants, diet pills and laxatives. There are warning signs that if they are noticed early enough could help someone deal with their disordered eating. Fluctuations in weight loss, excessive leanness or a rapid weight loss, avoiding team meals or choosing to eat by themselves and a preoccupation with weight and body image, exercise or training in addition to training for their particular sport or event, these are just a few of the warning signs of disordered eating.
Amenorrhea is the loss of menstruation. In primary amenorrhea, the individual has not experienced her first menstrual period by age 15. In secondary amenorrhea, the athlete misses three consecutive periods. The prevalence of amenorrhea among athletes tends to be higher than for non-athletes. Amenorrhea has become so common among female athletes that sports personnel and the athletes themselves sometimes think of it as normal. Because amenorrhea is viewed as normal to some athletes they are reluctant to report it to their team or family doctors. Any athlete who has been without a menstrual period for three months should be referred to a doctor for an evaluation. Amenorrhea related to sport participation can usually be reversed with an increase caloric intake or a decrease in physical activity.
Osteoporosis refers to the low bone mass and the fragility of the skeleton. Osteoporosis can be caused by amenorrhea. Usually the amount of bone loss increase with the duration of the amenorrhea. Disordered eating may also play a role in bone loss in athletes that are restricting calories. This restriction of calories often causes a reduction in dairy products as well which are a great source of calcium that the bones need to grow. This may cause the athlete to experience a weakening of her bones that could lead to stress fractures as well as broken bones. These types of injuries could ruin an athlete’s career.
The basic cause of the female athlete triad is an imbalance between the amount of calories consumed and the amount of calories burned through exercise or training. The treatment for this is to increase the amount of calories consumed or to decrease the amount of time and energy that is devoted to practice or training.